Seizing Victory from the Jaws of Defeat


I seem to be paying more attention to the New York Times lately. Hard to say why, save for the fodder it provides this blog. On Monday, October 5, Paul Krugman used the occasion of the Olympics Committee’s rejecting Chicago as a site for the games to spew a little vitriol at talk meisters, the Republican Party, and, seemingly, anyone who disagrees with the Democratic Party:
“‘Cheers erupted’ at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blog post by a member of the magazine’s staff with the headline ‘Obama loses! Obama loses!’” Krugman writes, “Rush Limbaugh declared himself ‘gleeful.’ ‘World Rejects Obama,’ gloated the Drudge Report. And so on.
“So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.
“But more important, the episode illustrated an essential truth about the state of American politics: at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.” (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/opinion/05krugman.html?em )

Much as I’d like to do a deep analysis of Krugman’s myopic view of the behavior of both parties, engaging in the kind of “Oh, yeah? Well what about when the Democrats did thus-and-such?” seems both futile and to prove Krugman’s point. Oh, what the hell: I suppose the jokes, laughter, and endless replays on the evening news when President Bush fell victim to a shoe-lobber all exemplified the emotional maturity of the Dali Lama. I suppose that when Senator John (“My-Face-Is-So-Long-Because-I-Put-My-Foot-in-My-Mouth-Vertically”) Kerry joked earlier this year that then-Governor Sarah Palin should have “gone missing” rather than Governor Mark Sanford, Krugman would no doubt deem Kerry’s sense of humor rapier sharp, urbane and sophisticated. No doubt he’s still getting a chuckle out of Kerry’s one-two punch about the dumb kids who wind up in Iraq. And let’s not forget the laugh-out-loud boffo humor of Wanda Sykes wishing Rush Limbaugh dead. Mature. Very mature. Mr. Krugman, the Republicans do not have an exclusive claim on spite or puerility. There’s plenty of nastiness to go around. One might even suggest that your one-sided accusations might be part of it.

But back to the Olympics. I, too, cheered when Chicago lost the chance to host the games. Not because President and Mrs. Obama failed on the world stage to make a persuasive case for their home town, but because the games not being played on American soil means that the hoo-hah that surrounds them will be softened a bit.

One of the perks of the single life is that I control the remote, so I can click off the Olympics faster than an Olympic “athlete” can flunk a drug test. What I wish I could click off with similar ease is the conflation of patriotism and the Olympic sports. There is an essential creepiness to the Olympics that makes me shudder, and the idea that love of country or national loyalty is somehow tied to rooting for pampered and privileged sports enthusiasts seems to me to be just plain crazy.

Let’s start with the creepiness. That torch-lighting ceremony that opens the games? It looks to me like a parade of genetically engineered super men and women goose-stepping to show off the merch to the highest buyer, be it a sneaker manufacturer or a cereal purveyor. The notion that the participants are, like Mrs. Peel, talented amateurs is fiction. Pernicious fiction, because these are the last people I would hold up to my kid—if I had a kid—as role models, as exemplars of can-do persistence and determination.

How many times have we heard the touching story of the young skater who gets up at four every morning so that mom can drive her to the rink for three hours of practice. At age seven or eight. And how the house is mortgaged and pop holds down two jobs so the skating princess can have her Vegas-showgirl costume designed by Vera Wang. The heck with the siblings, we’ve got our eye on the prize. Olympic gold? Yeah, sure, that’s nice too, but I’m talking about the real prize—the endorsements, the personal appearance contracts. The years of under-education, friendless summers, and monomania will have all paid off. Amateurs. Superb role models. Do parents seriously wish this kind of life for their children? Or think it’s a good idea to allow an average kid to compare herself to one of these thoroughbreds? They’re not children, they are commodities.

And when they grow up, they take “performance-enhancing” drugs. I cannot remember an Olympics when there hasn’t been a pre-, post-, or medias-res- drugging scandal. Spare me the bleats about the pressures of competition. What kind of perverted idea of sport allows athletes and their advisors to think that drugging is OK? This would not be an issue for me were it not for the cognitive dissonant manner in which the games are viewed: we want to believe they are one thing—a bunch of well-trained, disciplined men and women excelling at a sport for the love of that sport—when we know very well that the Olympics are a grotesque perversion of this fairy tale.

Just as I click the channel when the Olympics are on, I stay as far away as I can from products that bear the Olympic logo. Which is tough because I love M&Ms, but I do what I can to be true to my principles. So, brava, Mrs.Obama! Great work, President Obama! I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome than you delivered.

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